Why Do Anime Heroes Get The Most Boring Powers?

Friday's Feature

In case it doesn’t become immediately apparent, this discussion is mostly me musing on something that has bothered me in a handful of shows that I’m now generalising across anime. It is not actually intended to be an overly serious post but honestly, I’ve been wondering this for awhile and of all things it was Endro that brought me back to musing about the powers given to a hero in anime.

Endro! Episode 1

For those who aren’t watching the pastel painted moe fest that is Endro, it is the story of a girl who wants to be a hero and defeat a demon lord, only she kind of already did but stuffed it up sending the demon lord back to the past and now the demon lord is her teacher as she learns to be a hero. of course she has a team of friends along for the ride and a Princess who has fallen in love with her, but mostly it is just a lot of fun and silliness.

Now, as one of the symbols that Julia Charldetto is in fact the hero she comes across the ‘hero’s sword’ and draws it out. In fitting with the colour scheme of the anime it is pink. And it sparkles. But basically we have a hero who swings a sword and whacks things.

Endro Episode 2 Seiran

Meanwhile, we have Seiran in her squad who is an elven priest and when all else fails can actually put her glasses on and is a crack shot with a bow. Then we have Fai who is more hand to hand and likes pummelling things and jumping a lot. Lastly we have Mather with her obsession with Cartado and an array of interesting magic to bring to the fight. All of these characters have really cool abilities and yet the hero in their story has a pink, shiny sword.

Endro Episode 4 Finding Shells

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Now I’m not dismissing swords. Swords can be super cool. Just look at Hitsugaya in Bleach with Hyourinmaru and how cool that sword can be with weather controlling effects and ice dragons. Seriously, that is a cool sword. As is Rukia’s zanpakuto and dozens of other blades in Bleach.

Hitsugaya - Bleach

But, do you know who has a less than cool sword? Ichigo Kurosaki. The hero of Bleach. His sword is really big. About the only time it kind of looked cool was when Hollow Ichigo was swinging it around by the wrap and attempting to pummel Ichigo with it. Actually, Ichigo vs Hollow Ichigo is just a fantastic fight to watch in general and Hollow Ichigo provides some great entertainment throughout the course of Bleach.

Even when Ichigo steps up to the next level, his sword actually becomes less impressive and realistically, while he gets really fast and agile, and hits things even harder and faster, Ichigo’s power is the least interesting one to watch in Bleach (okay I take that back, there are worse powers in Bleach but when looking just at the main group of shinigami and Ichigo’s human friends, his power is just not that interesting by comparison).

Hollow Ichigo - Bleach

Though, even if we move away from sword wielding heroes to a magical girl like Sailor Moon, what we see is a hero surrounded by characters with cool elemental powers that are showy and flashy, fairly versatile and interesting, and yet in season one she throws her head band and occasionally heals things. Even when she uses the Silver Imperium Crystal, other than a light show the power itself is not that interesting to watch. It might be the strongest force in the universe but that by itself doesn’t make it all that fascinating to watch as the bright pink light engulfs her enemy and thus ends the climax.

As the seasons continue, Sailor Moon upgrades from her Crescent Moon Wand to the Moon Sceptre and if nothing else she continues to get the absolute best accessories compared to the other scouts. The Moon Spiral Heart Attack is perhaps the longest one to get going of her general attacks and is so overblown in both the set up and execution that you almost have to laugh (actually, I was more worried Serena was going to trip over her own hair while doing the activation sequence) and yet realistically for all the increases in power Sailor Moon’s attacks remain much the same. She’s very much a one punch and they are dead kind of hero and once she lets off her attack in most cases the battle is done. While the other scouts might be less effective in battle, at least there are some interesting possibilities for outcomes when they attack.

Kirito kind of bucked this trend in Sword Art Online (at least in Aincrad). While his sword style was a bit weird to begin with, it was always fun to watch. This only got better when he demonstrated his dual wield ability which was unique in the game making his ability actually one of the more interesting in the story.

However, Sword Art Online decided to kick its own hero when they introduced magic in Fairy Dance, and Alicization has taken the Bleach approach where swords aren’t always swords. Suddenly, Kirito isn’t looking all that crash-hot even in his own series, though he is still one hero who kind of breaks this trend of having the most boring power going.

Actually, there are plenty of cases where the hero does have a cool power or hidden ability. The problem is, with a lot of these powers they are so OP that they kind of instantly end fights once they get going or can’t be used because of the general scale of destruction. So even when a hero has a very cool ability, its use outside of final battles is pretty minimal meaning we’re watching a hero fight at less than full capacity in a lot of fights and it doesn’t always make for engrossing viewing, particularly when you know that they can pull out another power if things get really tough.

For instance, Bell in Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon has a very cool attack. Admittedly, I like Bell’s fighting style anyway where he relies on speed and his fairly small knife, moving around his enemy and wearing them down rather than just smacking them really hard once. Bell’s fight against the Minotaur is still one of my favourite fights ever and for all that there are stronger warriors in DanMachi, Bell is actually just great to watch in action.

But, his Argonaut Skill is definitely an overpowered skill, tempered by the long time it takes to activate. In order for Bell to get a decent strike in with it, he requires a lengthy interval in which his companions are likely to get splattered if they aren’t careful. While the results of this attack are fairly spectacular, it essentially boils a fight down to the flies buzzing around an enemy and distracting it long enough for Bell to get a decent fly-swat and one punch end the battle.

Is there a solution to this? I mean, we want our heroes to win their fights and having a fairly unstoppable attack more or less guarantees it. Though, such a large scale attack usually ends up looking much the same as every other large scale attack. The personality and distinction of an ability is washed away by the effects given to promote the size and scale of the attack.

Anyway, as I said at the start, this wasn’t an overly serious post. I’ve just been thinking through anime heroes and wondering why more of them don’t have unique or interesting powers and why so many end up with giant swords. I’d love to know your take on anime heroes and whether they have interesting powers or not so leave a comment below.

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Karandi James
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Sailor Moon S Series Review

She’s defended the world, saved the future, and is ready to just get on with her life, but there are certainly new dangers afoot that will ensure things are not peaceful for long.

  • Season 1 review: here.
  • Season 2 review: here.

Review (Spoiler Warning):

Things are going to get tricky here because seasons 1 and 2 were the only ones playing on TV with their fun English dub when I was growing up. It wasn’t until much later that I was able to watch S, Super S and finally Stars and then I had to switch to subs so all the character names changed. One of those fun parts of my early anime journey in the 90’s really. That isn’t to say there wasn’t some benefit to this given a few of the characters weren’t quite as squeaky in Japanese, but some characters actually sounded even more over the top. And I’m not sure how, but Usagi/Serena crying certainly seems even more ear-splitting in the original soundtrack. For the sake of review consistency, I’m going to try to stick to the English names for characters.

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Sailor Moon S is kind of where Sailor Moon peaked for me. Outside of the first season, it was always my favourite and the reason for that lies squarely at the feet of the newly introduced Sailor Scouts and Rini’s new friend, Hotaru.

We’d previously met Pluto, but not like this, and Uranus and Neptune are a fantastic pair for so many reasons. Okay, we’ll overlook the fact that the pronunciation of some of the attacks is so poor that my friend and I had to look up what Uranus’ attack actually was because the version we managed to find didn’t put subs in for when they said English words and no matter how many times we listened to it we were convinced the word ‘chicken’ featured somewhere in there and that didn’t make a lot of sense. Turns out it is ‘world shaking’ and not ‘chicken’ and really that sounds like a much better attack, but all of that just added to our ongoing obsession with this show.

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It is odd that Uranus and Neptune work so well, given they are essentially taking on much the same role Tuxedo Mask had in season 1. They aren’t necessarily the scout’s allies, tell them that they are not and that they have their own agenda, and yet the almost never allow real harm to befall the scouts. Their actions are motivated by a goal they have to achieve but they don’t actually just tell the other scouts what it is. The parallel between their role and Tuxedo Mask in season 1 is further emphasises by Uranus’ not so subtle advances on Serena. Now, we kind of know she’s just teasing given Haruka (Uranus) is totally devoted to Michiru (Neptune). Which is where the English dub becomes a little dubious (I saw it much later when it was finally available on DVD), and realised that they changed these two into cousins. It seems kind of ludicrous given how close these two are and how important their relationship is to the entire narrative being constructed here, but I guess they really wanted to keep pretending that only kids were watching and that somehow seeing two female character in love would somehow be harmful. Because, watching them have their hearts ripped out apparently wasn’t.

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I will never understand censorship.

What I think makes Uranus and Neptune work so well in the role, as compared with Tuxedo Mask who became more of a running joke, is that you could actually believe that these two would burn Sailor Moon if they had to. They were cold enough and desperate enough that they might just have let her die. Whereas, there was never any doubt that Tuxedo Mask was a goody-two-shoes. Even when brainwashed he couldn’t bring himself to actually hurt Serena.

This kind of character, still technically a good guy, and yet ruthless in their devotion to their cause, was thrilling and added an edge to a show that might otherwise have just given us yet another iteration of the same old story.

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When we throw Hotaru’s character and plight in as well, we see that Sailor Moon S really was trying to step things up. This isn’t just monsters or fights or magical powers. This was a real human drama and an ongoing one. Previously characters with issues had been introduced, some magical menace would pray on them and Serena would zap it with her wand and all would be well. Hotaru’s loneliness and isolation was an ongoing theme and there was no magical and quick fix. Without spoiling the season finale, while there is an ultimately magical fix, it doesn’t exactly just make everything all better. There’s a lot of pain here and it is real human emotion that is being explored.

Which of course brings the conversation around to the villains of the piece, the Death Busters. And yes, they look every bit as ridiculous as Beryl and her minions and Prince Diamond and his. Actually, the fashion probably got worse. However, the viciousness of the monster of the week was certainly stepped up in this season. While the same sorts of patterns were followed, the stakes always felt higher and only one or two of the passing villains were so absurd that they drew out laughter rather than a desire to see them vanquished (the car one is memorably terrible).

Sailor Moon 3h

However, the Death Busters have a plan that seems a lot more together than either Beryl or Diamond and even though ultimately it amounts to once again destroying the world, these characters seem like they have so much more chance at success. Maybe it is because instead of living in some cave under the ice, or being a thousand years in the future, these characters are working in a laboratory and seem to be taking the whole evil plot thing far more seriously. Doesn’t assist their general poor sense of fashion or the fact that the professor’s glasses do that weird thing evil anime character glasses do where they glint in total darkness.

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If I was to throw any complaint at this season, it would be directed at Sailor Moon herself. Early on she fails against the villains and then for reasons she just gets a new compact and rod. Previously it made sense that Serenity had sent weapons back in time, but if there was a more powerful version of the basic tools, I have to wonder why she didn’t get them initially or why they weren’t ever mentioned. It is very much plot convenience, or a desire to sell new accessories. Plus, the heart rod always drove me crazy because if we thought Serena’s attacks took a long time to power up before, be prepared for the new dancing and spinning Sailor Moon. Also, Serena is such a klutz, I always wondered how she didn’t trip over her own pig-tails while powering it up.

But, I’m not just mocking the convenient power jump. The biggest issue is that Serena lost a lot of her bite in this season, and that is a trend that would continue to plague the next two seasons as well. She’s growing up, but that means she’s becoming less interesting. Less wailing and whining and ditching and more responsibility and wise, kind words of calm. It might make her a better person but it doesn’t make her as fun to watch in action. The other scouts also get seriously side lined and while they each get a story line devoted to them, ultimately they could have been ditched from this altogether and we could have just had Serena, Rini, and the new Sailor Scouts without much adjustment of the narrative.

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Still, this is definitely a solid season of Sailor Moon and for those working their way through the 90’s version of the series for the first time, this season is one to look forward to.

If you are still with me in reliving the classic Sailor Moon seasons, I’d love to know what you thought of this one so leave me a comment below.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Friday’s Feature: How Does Sailor Moon Avoid The Label of Overpowered MC?

It seems as I go back through the Sailor Moon series for review purposes I’ve become a bit fixated on this series again. It is the place where my love of anime was born so I guess that’s really no surprise. However, as I thought through the events of Sailor Moon, even in the early seasons, I started to wonder why Serena never got stuck with that apparently most heinous of labels of being an overpowered MC (definitely spoilers for seasons 1 and 2 of the 1990’s anime below).

serena and Darien

I’ve examined the issue of overpowered main characters in a feature fairly early on after starting my blog. Mostly because I find that the phrase OP MC tends to feature heavily when people are criticising a main character but don’t really have much to say against them other than apparently they don’t tend to lose fights. Apparently that makes for boring viewing but to be perfectly honest it is the foundation of most fiction that the good guys win except when there’s a pressing thematic need to have them knocked down a peg or two. And one could equally argue that a protagonist who loses all the time would be pretty dull to watch as well.

I’m not going to recap all the reasons why I think overpowered main characters aren’t a problem, but I think most anime fans have at least one truly overpowered character in their life that they just love. Even if it is just Saitama from One Punch Man.

onepunchman_forreal

Instead I want to look at season one and two Sailor Moon and the reasons why I feel that by any definition she’s OP and yet that’s fine. I will only be discussing the 1990’s anime.

Firstly, she fairly instinctively knows how to use her power. There’s no learning it and at first it is kind of weak and then with training she gets stronger. She get’s one prompt from Luna and then she’s throwing that tiara like she was born to do it (oh wait, she was). And it instantly kills her enemies. While the tiara isn’t strong enough to defeat higher level enemies, that’s okay. As Serena faces more powerful enemies, more powerful weapons literally get dropped into her lap and again, there is almost no learning curve.

Sailor Tiara.gif

Ordinary middle school girl one day; slayer of the minions of the Negaverse the next with almost no inbetween.

Secondly, given there is a monster of the week, every single week, if we look at her win to lose ratio you have to admit there’s a real imbalance here. Now, we could disqualify any villain taken out by another villain or the very small number that actually get defeated by one of the other scouts, but realistically Sailor Moon has the finishing move in almost every fight regardless of how much or little other characters have contributed. The only real losses she suffers are at the wharf when Malachite traps the scouts in a dome and in the Starlight Tower when Zoisite kidnaps Darien and whisks him away to the Negaverse.

Malachite.jpg

Yet, in neither of instances did Sailor Moon actually fight. She was trapped in the dome without warning and so Malachite avoided going head to head with her (making him one of the smarter bad guys in the series) and once Serena was freed from the dome (by Venus) Malachite ran away (sorry, tactically withdrew). In the case of Zoisite, the fight was with Darien and he lost. Nobody actually fought Sailor Moon until after Darien was teleported out of the tower and then Malachite faced a resounding smack down from a girl who had only just received her magic wand.

Sailor Wand.gif

Thirdly, Serena becomes the holder of the Silver Crystal which is said to be the ultimate power in the cosmos and can pretty much do anything, provided the user isn’t afraid to die in the process. This crystal is the magical get out of jail free card for this series that seems to get stronger when needed and literally does whatever is needed at the time (healing, destroying, restoring, etc). Serena as Sailor Moon and the Moon Princess has the ultimate weapon and is pretty much the only one who can use it. Let’s just be thankful she isn’t all that ambitious.

And that brings me to the second part of this post. Why wasn’t Serena labelled as OP?

Probably because it wasn’t trendy to drop labels like that on main characters back then. Fans weren’t jaded to the point where someone being successful was a sign of poor characterisation. However, there are probably some other good reasons why she escapes the label.

Despite her roaring success in battle and overcoming so many world destroying evils, Serena is totally uncoordinated and just looks so pathetic. It is very hard to take her seriously as a threat when she can barely walk four steps without tripping over her own pig-tails (slight exaggeration, only slight).

serena1

She’s also not one of the protagonists with a clear and driving goal forcing her forward. This is where Sailor Moon quite distinguishes itself from so many shounen anime. Sailor Moon is always reactive to threats that appear to upset her normal everyday life. But her normal everyday life is all she’s fighting to preserve. She doesn’t want power or to use her abilities for anything other than to live out her days eating great food and maybe being a celebrity provided she doesn’t have to work too hard.

serena2

That lack of drive contributes to the overall view that somehow she isn’t as strong as she is. She isn’t knocking people down to get what she wants left and right or seeking out stronger opponents to test her mettle. At the end of each conflict, she looks forward to putting her crystal on the shelf and resuming her normal life rather than the next challenge she will face.

But that doesn’t make her any less powerful.

Sailor Moon Crystal.gif

In fact, I’m struggling to think of a single character who could actually beat Serena in a real fight if Serena was motivated to fight (as in that character had hurt her or one of her friends). Cosmic Moon Power is pretty unbeatable and given it hasn’t killed her yet (despite the fact that it probably should have) she’s more or less got no limits on what she can do.

What do you think about Serena or overpowered main characters?

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Karandi James
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FIGUARTS ZERO CHOUETTE BISHOUJO SENSHI SAILOR MOON: SAILOR MOON -MOON CRYSTAL POWER, MAKE UP
FIGUARTS ZERO CHOUETTE BISHOUJO SENSHI SAILOR MOON: SAILOR MOON -MOON CRYSTAL POWER, MAKE UP

Sailor Moon R Series Review

Our favourite pig-tailed transforming heroine returns in season 2 of the classic Sailor Moon anime and this time we have aliens, time travel, and once again the potential end of the world. If you missed my review of season 1 it can be found here.

Review (Spoiler Warning):

There are fewer things more satisfying than a sequel to something you are desperately in love with, and as a young teen, I was very in love with Sailor Moon. Unfortunately, Foxtel (or it might have even been a Galaxy pay-TV service at the time), simply replayed season one over and over again. So when they finally aired season 2 and there were episodes of Sailor Moon available that I didn’t already know word for word, I was ecstatic. You know what they say though about high expectations.

As a result, Sailor Moon R became one of my least favourite in the franchise (though it would be a considerable time before I’d finally get to see future seasons). It wasn’t until I became an adult anime watcher and rewatched Sailor Moon through, that a lot of the charm of season 2 became really apparent. I’ve now rewatched it many, many times, and I’ll admit some of my favourite moments from Sailor Moon in general come from season 2. But equally, some of my least favourite moments come from this season.

So what is season 2 about?

That’s hard to say straight up because there are two quite distinct arcs in season 2. The first has two aliens coming to Earth to harvest energy for a tree that keeps them alive. That sounds kind of cool but as a kid I mostly just wanted these two characters to go away. Alan and Ann have a weird dynamic where you can never tell if they are siblings, lovers, or just co-dependent. They also both developed crushes on the Serena and Darien leading to a really weird temper tantrum fuelled by jealousy.

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Great fashion sense.

When you throw in the fact that these two don’t really do anything for the majority of their arc other than sit around and have Alan play a flute before some weird monster shows up, rinse and repeat, it doesn’t make for compelling viewing. On top of that, the story is trying to get us back to the status quo that was kind of destroyed at the end of season 1.

The scouts and Darien have all lost their memories. They don’t remember being scouts or anything that they did. So a large part of the Alan and Ann story has Luna waking Serena up and then the other scouts. But Darien doesn’t awaken. Serena, with all her past life knowledge plus the memory of their most recent shared experience, pursues him fairly relentlessly and tries to force her emotions onto him, but he doesn’t remember her at all. It’s a bit awkward and uncomfortable and that’s even before the Moonlight Knight appears.

SailorMoone
This guy is potentially even lamer than Tuxedo Mask.

Don’t even get me started on how lame that guy is. Even in my early teens I didn’t have any patience for his particular brand of bull.

However, this is one of the parts I did appreciate more watching as an adult. Alan and Ann still come off a bit creepy and possessive, but their overall motives made a lot more sense to me and I almost felt some genuine empathy for them, which made swallowing their arc a lot easier. Even if a lot of other things about this series of episodes makes for some cringe worthy viewing.

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Once that arc wraps up though, we get into the real meat of the series when Rini, Serena and Darien’s child from the future literally drops in and is there to steal Serena’s crystal so that she can go back and rescue her mum (who of course she doesn’t know is Serena because we’re still going with the ridiculous line that they look different when they are transformed even though that is clearly not the case). Rini however doesn’t come alone. She’s pursued by members of the Black Moon Clan who for various reasons have declared war against the earth. And hey, while they are in the past they may as well take steps to make winning the war in the future easier.

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While the villains by and large suffer similar issues to Beryl’s minions in season 1, I couldn’t help but feel that most of the characters were a bit more fleshed out in terms of their personal motives. The relationships they had with the rest of the members of their clan also seemed more established. So while they still served the villain of the week role, they were quite a bit of fun to get to know over the course of the series, and some of them even lived through it.

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And this brings us to my very second anime crush, Sapphire. As the younger brother of Prince Diamond he realises something is wrong with what they are doing in terms of actually meeting their original objective. Unfortunately, someone tries to kill him before he manages to tell his brother what he knows and he is forced to flee. This sequence was fantastic and while Sapphire had a pretty limited screen time, he left a lasting impression on me. Even more so than Nephrite back in season 1. He may have betrayed Beryl when he fell in love with Molly, but he was still a bad guy. His death was heart-breaking more because it left Molly in tears than because I felt bad for him. Sapphire is very different. And Sapphire’s death is truly tragic.

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I think my heart broke just a little bit right here.

However, we can’t discuss Sailor Moon R without discussing Rini’s presence. She was so incredibly annoying. I loved that she could use hypnotism and that was how she got into Serena’s house as her ‘cousin’ and I loved Luna P. But Rini’s character kind of irritated me at every scene. The number of times she’s lose her temper or have an argument with Serena and run off alone, only to get attacked again, was just ridiculous. More importantly, by the time she decided to tell Serena and Darien the truth, you were kind of wanting the bad guys to squish her flat.

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Which is possibly why Rini’s transformation to the dark side as Wicked Lady worked so well. Again we see events very much mirroring season one when Darien was taken in by Beryl. Only this time we see Rini step up and she actually plays the role of the villain so incredibly well. Admittedly this did lead to the awkward sequence of the grown up child trying to cling on to her future father and even as a teen that made me do a double take, but I think most people will admit Wicked Lady was a great addition to this story.

We also get to meet Sailor Pluto, the first of the outer scouts that we meet as the guardian of time. Again, her presence in this season is pretty small but the impression she leaves is quite favourable which serves her well in future seasons when she, and the other outer scouts, will have a much larger role to play.

But what really captured me about season 2, even when I wasn’t such a huge fan of it way back when, was the vision of the future it presented. It was so incredibly bleak and I couldn’t help but wonder about the sequence of events that will lead the world there. For a young mind, there are so many possibilities for imagining opened up by this series as it plays with time and space.

Still, the beating heart of any Sailor Moon story is Serena and season 2 Serena has a few issues. The first is that she spends the entire first arc pining after her boyfriend. The second is that even after Rini drops in from the future, Serena continues to be a bit of a brat and really, two brats are too many. Thirdly, she’s unreasonably dense at a number of moments in the series, failing to pick up critical clues. And finally, after accepting things she suddenly becomes this amazing, forgiving and nurturing person in the space of about five minutes. I’m all for Serena growing up but they could have eased us into that a bit.

That isn’t to say that Serena doesn’t have a few shining moments. Her fight against Rubius is brutal, it is really quite horrific (particularly for a teen viewer) when she’s kidnapped by Diamond, and she actually does accept her role as a scout and the Moon Princess so much more readily in this season.

The other scouts start getting pushed to the periphery of the story where at times they seem important and at others they seem to just fill up space on the screen, and this is a trend that tragically continues into future seasons, but with so many other characters getting screen time it would have been hard from them. They do all get at least one moment just for them throughout the season, but at times they do start to feel unnecessary.

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Overall, season 2 is riddled with issues, and yet it retains a lot of the fun of season one. It improves upon the villains, the settings are cool, and there are some great fights. While we will have to wait for season 3 to get something that surpassed the original series, season 2 still hits a spot for Sailor Moon fans, new and old alike. And if nothing else, you can always turn it into a really cool game of eat a malteaser when…

I’d love to know your thoughts about Sailor Moon R.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Sailor Moon Season 1 Series Review

How has it taken me this long to review Sailor Moon? Well I guess I did already review Crystal, but it is time to take on the original anime series and the one that won over my heart as a child (and more than likely planted the seed for me becoming the anime fan I am today – thanks Sailor Moon).

Review:

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Welcome to the world of Serena (Usagi – though given I originally watched this dubbed on TV I’m just sticking with the English names). In her world getting up late is the norm, blaming others for being late, crying over scraped knees, and being ecstatic at the sight of food. She’s your typical middle-school girl (at least as anime proclaims typical) and while she is subjected to fairly awful 90’s fashion and colouring through the duration of the series, she’s an instantly recognisable character. A little extreme but we all know the person who is always eating, wants to sleep, and has big dreams and no drive.

If that were all there was to Serena, they probably still could have pulled out an alright series around it. I’ve certainly seen worse characters have a show built around them. But Sailor Moon is a magical girl series. For some of us, it is ‘the’ magical girl series. While it wasn’t the first, and it objectively isn’t the best, Sailor Moon was a gateway into anime back in the 90’s and there are more than a few anime fans I know who look back fondly on days of watching this series.

But that isn’t really reviewing the show so much as nostalgia tripping over it. I will admit, I have a lot of love for the klutzy heroine, even if part of me wishes they’d used her crying as a weapon in more than just the first episode. Wow, that sound is hard on the ears. I can fully understand the villains faltering in the face of that sound.

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Despite that, I’m not blind to the shows many flaws. The overly bloated episode count of season 1, the extreme repetition of some of the early sequences, and the fact that the anime doesn’t get over the idea of repetition. First we have the villains collecting energy. Introduce villain, see 4 – 5 episodes of said villain failing miserably at the hands of the clearly nefarious Sailor Moon (why are these villains a threat if sleepy-head can beat them), Beryl loses her temper and villain is usually offed by his own Queen before the next one gets introduced. Rinse and repeat.

Though somewhere along the line they introduce the idea of needing to collect crystals and then we get seven nearly identical episodes of Serena or one of the other scouts bumping into someone who of course turns out to be a carrier but of course they don’t realise. Said person gets attacked, a fight breaks out, and then either the scouts, the villains, or occasionally Tuxedo Mask pick up the crystal.

Even in the latter half of the season where it feels like the show should have better things to do we have another round of repetition as Beryl’s minions set up plot after plot to ‘identify’ the mysterious Princess. And the throw-away line that they look different in real life is no excuse for not recognising Serena as Sailor Moon. Seriously, how dumb are these villains?

And yet, despite so many obvious narrative flaws and questionable execution, as well as the fact that visually this anime has definitely not aged well, there are a lot of reasons to love it.

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First and foremost, Serena might be lazy, uncoordinated and downright silly at times, but she’s still an incredible female character from the 90’s. A girl who loves being a girl but also kicks butt when the occasion calls for it. Okay, she might whine a bit in the process but the sheer body count in Sailor Moon’s wake (or dust count) speaks for itself. You don’t mess with Sailor Moon. She kind of likes her sleepy and lazy life, her random crushes, her lunches with friends, and shopping. She really likes shopping. Curse the villain who gets in the way of her doing any one of these or stops any of her friends from experiencing their life.

Ami

Secondly, the rest of the scouts are amazing. Ami shows us girls with brains. Rei has grace and focus. Jupiter is the tough girl with the heart of gold (my personal favourite). And while I don’t have as much love for Venus, she certainly provides a lot of heart in the show. Their interactions are silly and trivial sometimes, deadly serious at others. At one point early on, Rei and Ami actually quit because they don’t like Serena’s leadership, but ultimately the message of the show is one of teamwork and so the Scout’s eventually come together.

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Thirdly, they actually destroy their enemies. Not so impressive when compared to a lot of shounen, although if we look at Bleach, most of the people Ichigo has crossed blades with are still alive and kicking. Serena turns her enemies into Moon Dust and she does it with a fanfare of pop music and usually a floral decorated crescent moon in the background. That’s almost insulting and yet it is brilliant. She spends more time transforming and posing, her attacks take forever to power up, her weapons are absurd, and yet somehow the entire thing works beautifully.

Also, did I mention the scope of this story. I mean really. Starting from ordinary school girl we introduce magical talking cats, transforming students, magic crystals, reincarnation of an alien Princess on earth, global destruction, true love, and pretty much anything else you can think of. There’s a lot to this seemingly simple story and while at times it becomes fairly overblown, there’s something genuine about the drama here.

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I guess I should probably mention Tuxedo Mask. He appears. He makes speeches. I’m going to be honest, while I quite like Darien as a character (okay, I admit he was my first anime crush), the only episode Tuxedo Mask is cool in is the one where he makes the Scouts think he just flew when instead he’s crouched just below them on a ledge.

And basically that is Sailor Moon. There are some incredibly flashy fight sequences, lots of stuff about love and friendship, some very cool lines and poses if you are into that kind of thing, and an entire cast of characters to choose from when it comes to Cosplay. Sailor Moon is a classic for a reason. And while I understand that visually it is underwhelming, and that the sound track is definitely infused with 90’s pop-rock, there’s still a real appeal here.

This is one that is well worth checking out if you missed this era. The English dubbed version (original) has a few episodes cut from it and some fairly significant edits in places, but works well enough.

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Sailor Moon is where my journey into anime began and I really am thankful to it. I’m sure everyone else blogging about anime has that one show that really started them on their path to where they are now and I’d love to know what it is for you. But also, what do you think of Sailor Moon? Share your thoughts below.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Friday’s Feature – On Magical Girls (2/3)

Right so we’re back to magical girls and this week I wanted to look at the characters and the magic powers that crop up in these stories. While this is where many of these stories differentiate themselves, there are still a lot of common factors between shows.

Alas, I am only going to be looking at the main characters from a handful of anime. There is too much content to get into side characters and villains (though I may do a post on those guys at some point – it won’t be in this series).

So who are our main contenders? Serena (Sailor Moon – original anime series), Amu (Shugo Chara), and Madoka (Madoka Magica).

I’m going to start with Serena (the person who springs to everyone’s lips). How do we describe her?

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She’s a klutz.

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Who over eats.

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And she’s not particularly bright.

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And she’s a cry baby.

Wow. It’s a good thing she likes cats and rescued Luna or else she was kind doomed as a character. Even her friends regularly run her down but they all agree on a couple of things. Serena is stubborn (and while that is sometimes a negative a certain amount of stubbornness is needed to not just give up on things) and she’s also happy most of the time and loyal to her friends.

As a magical girl, Serena’s path is a long one.

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Her initial transformation aside, she struggles in the early battles to hold her nerve and to use her powers effectively. She regularly needs a pep talk from one of the scouts of Tuxedo Mask to get her moving again and while the threat doesn’t feel very real at times she’d rather let someone else take care of it. However, as the danger intensifies and as Serena ‘grows up’ she begins to embrace her roles as the Moon Princess. Admittedly, it’s midway through season 2 before you see her settle on this and even then she is plagued by the occasional doubt about whether she’d just like to be ordinary.

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Serena and Darien

Serena’s love story is integral to the overall plot as there’s a whole lovers in former lives issue and Serena and Darien’s love regularly saves the plot from falling apart by generating a much needed power boost or saves one or the other from what should be death. While Darien’s presence is very much a positive for Serena’s development, he himself gets very little development or chance to take the lead. It’s a magical girl show so show up, give your speech and then wait on the sidelines until she requires some moral support. I always felt a bit sorry for Darien.

As to the magic itself, Sailor Moon relies heavily on devices. Transformations can be undone by removing brooches and powers rendered useless by knocking wands out of hands. The girls themselves seemingly cannot activate their power without these device and accessories (which makes you wonder how any of the villains ever lost to them when there was such an easy path to victory). The device aside, Sailor Moon is the champion of shouting out attack names and key phrases for transformation in English. I wonder if shouting it louder made your power more impressive?

On to Amu from Shugo Chara.

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I must not smile.

Amu is straight away a different character from Serena. She is cool and admired for being cool and aloof. However, that’s all her outer character and one she has deliberately established. The audience is let on to her inner monologue and uncertainties and we know she’d love to ooh over the cute things and gush at the prince. And unlike Serena, Amu isn’t inherently a magical girl. Nope. She did not get reborn after dying tragically in a past life. Nor was she chosen by destiny. Apparently being indecisive and wishing for a change in your life is enough because Amu created her own magic, even if she regularly regrets it during the first part of the series.

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What? You can’t see the difference? She now has a heart in her hair and she’s ridiculously over the top and exuberant.

Amu’s indecisiveness is crazy. She doesn’t just manifest one alternate personality in the form of a guardian character but three (later four but you know). This leads to a whole range of different transformations, though Amulet Heart is her main go to.

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Yep, I’d look like that too if someone put me in a cheerleading outfit.

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Keep in mind, this isn’t like Sailor Moon evolving in Super Sailor Moon or then becoming the Princess. These are entirely separate identities with totally different powers (more or less the same results though). And then later, of course, we start combining these powers and then things just get silly.

Where Amu is very similar to Serena is the journey she goes through as a character. She matures and stops worrying about petty things quite so much and stops complaining about things not being fair. She learns to just deal with things as they are and take them as they come. She also eventually gets over her ‘Prince’ crush though Ikuto probably had something to do with that.

amu and ikuto

Seriously, who needs a Prince when you have a bad boy whose alternate self is a cat? And unlike Darien, Ikuto actually gets to play a more active role in the story. He stirs up the core group, acts as an antagonist, get’s close to Amu and then disappears leaving her to fret for his safety and try to save him. He (like Darien) also gets brainwashed and has to be saved but then hangs around for the final fight instead of ending up with amnesia in the hospital.

The magic here comes from their guardian spirits (which are like manifestations of their dreams). Problem is, these spirits live in eggs and they can get stolen, sealed shut, or broken. Way to shatter your dreams literally. It’s like someone gave you that thing at school where they make you care for an egg for a week, only in this case if you break your egg you will not only have no super powers but become an empty shell of a human being. Tragic.

Once transformed though, the characters generate weapons and magic appropriate to their character. When she’s the cheerleader, Amu uses a baton or pom-poms. When she’s the artist, she uses a paintbrush. As Su, she uses a whisk (so cute and yet so useless – except for remake, that’s a remarkably useful power for cleaning up supernatural messes). I will point out that I spent a lot of time when I was younger trying to make a heart shape with my fingers like Amu and I am still convinced it is actually impossible to position your hands the way she does and end up with a clear heart. You can put your fingers together but it really doesn’t look particularly heart like.

Finally, we have Madoka. And I know, she isn’t a magical girl until the very end of the series. That’s why she’s included. We have the traditional magical girl (Serena), the slightly more modern and self-aware magical girl (Amu) and now we have the not a magical girl and hesitant to become one because it could cause you to die.

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That’s not the only reason Madoka is interesting. She also has no love interest. She saves the romance angst for her best friends to deal with. All Madoka has to deal with is her rampant insecurity because she feels she has no special… oh wait. She is a modern version of Serena with the self-awareness of Amu. Now the pink pony-tails make sense.

Still, the magical girl transformation is definitely impressive – they do make you wait all season for it. And her power is pretty undeniable (she recreates the entire lore by which magic works). Similar to Amu, her power is based on an inner wish, but in this case manifests by making a contract with the dev… Oh no, just Kyuubey. Close enough. Once a wish is made the magical girls get a soul gem that enables them to transform and then their power is kind of linked to their wish. Though watch out, if you get too far away from your soul gem, well you have no soul. This isn’t a good state to be in as it pretty much leaves you dying in a coma.

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I said their power was kind of linked because it’s a little odd. Madoka though has a bow and arrow, because arrows are cool nowadays, but she has the overly frilly dress of someone who grew up on a rich diet of what a magical girl should look like. It’s almost on par with the parody outfit from Is This A Zombie?

Let’s be honest. None of these girls are going to hold their own in a straight up swordfight. Serena will trip, Amu will be sarcastic and Madoka will wring her hands together in distress as she tries to think of a way to help (though which side she would help is debatable). But what these girls do possess:

  • Loyalty,
  • Honesty, and
  • Perseverance

These characteristics are not bestowed on them by mystic eggs, lockets or creepy bunny things. These are traits they have developed through their lives and are traits that allow them to overcome the trials and hardships they face. And that’s the core of magical girl stories. These characters. For just a little while you can believe that you don’t need to be smart or athletic or particularly talented at anything as long as you keep working hard and growing you will one day triumph.

And yeah I’ve missed a huge amount of points and ideas and haven’t even touched on the other cast members (friends and foes alike) but the post is already long enough so I’m calling it. Please feel free to add your points and argument below.